U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has announced the expansion of mandatory in-person interviewing of applicants for lawful permanent residence. In its public announcement, USCIS notes that this change complies with the March 6, 2017 Executive Order 13780, “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States.” That order also imposed the travel ban against all refugees and against nationals of six Muslim-majority countries.
Previously, immigrants whose employers sponsored their green cards were normally not required to attend an interview when adjusting from a nonimmigrant status to lawful permanent residence. The change also affects some relatives of asylees and refugees.
USCIS announced that it will begin phasing in the interview requirement on October 1, 2017. Anyone who has a pending application for adjustment of status could receive notice to appear at a mandatory interview at a local USCIS Field Office. USCIS also plans further, unspecified “incremental expansion” of the interview requirement to other benefit types besides lawful permanent resident cards. USCIS explained that it will handle the increase in workload “through enhancements in training and technology as well as transitions in some aspects of case management.”
In another change of policy impacting green card applicants, USCIS has begun denying the applications for advance parole of green card applicants who travel abroad while the advance parole application is pending. Previously, intending immigrants with an existing approved advance parole document or with a valid H-1B or L-1 visa were able to travel internationally without forfeiting a pending advance parole application. This change will effectively ground intending immigrants who rely on the advance parole document for travel and re-entry to the U.S. unless they have some other basis for travel. In order to avoid any gaps in travel authorization, permanent resident applicants must either remain in the U.S. for the entire time the advance parole application is pending (approximately four to five months currently) or obtain an H-1B or L-1 visa, if that is an option. It remains unclear whether USCIS will deny these advance parole applications uniformly or sporadically.
The new interviewing policy will very likely lengthen the employment-based green card process and could also slow down decisions in other cases by decreasing the availability of USCIS officers and availability of interviews for others.
The reinterpretation of rules for advance parole applications can effectively limit green card applicants from traveling abroad during much of the time their adjustment of status applications are pending, unless they have some other basis for travel like a previously approved advance parole or L-1/H-1B visa. If your company is sponsoring foreign workers for green cards and they frequently travel overseas for work, it is important to evaluate the effect of the change in advance parole policy and take any steps to ensure that the employees have the necessary documentation to support their continued travel. If an intending immigrant does not have proper documentation to return to the U.S., they would be refused admission by U.S. Customs and returned overseas.